There was a moment during the “UFC Unstoppable” press conference — and this goes way back to 2016 — when a ruckus crowd, enamored with the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, began jeering Daniel Cormier. The man in the hot seat, reacting to the chorus of boos reverberating inside the arena, was left unimpressed.
After all, his credentials demanded reverence and respect. He had won numerous gold medals at the U.S. National Championships and Pan American Championships. His legacy unparalleled, with his bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships, and his standing at the 2004 Olympics a testament to his greatness. There was also the matter of him being 17-1 back then in MMA while holding the coveted UFC Light Heavyweight title.
As he soaked in the boos, with a rather perplexed look on his face, Cormier spoke up. “That makes a lot of sense. Boo me, yeah, that makes sense.” If we had to put forward one example, a microcosm of the behavior, emotions, and the absurdity of the MMA world in which Cormier found himself, that would be the perfect illustration.
Daniel Cormier’s tryst with the sport of mixed martial arts, and in particular, with the UFC fans has been fascinating. Fans have always sided with the “bad boys”; the live-life-in-the-fast-lane characters, a propensity that arguably influenced their career choice. Going all the way back to the late ’90s and early 2000s, MMA fans celebrated and heralded individuals that often refused to tow the company line. From Tito Ortiz, to the Diaz brothers, to Conor McGregor and Jon Jones, they found a conduit they could vicariously live through. After all, if your career entails punching people in the face, you might not have to follow the social norms and protocols that the rest of us do.
And this was where Daniel Cormier became an anomaly. A family man, someone that gives back to the community, a model citizen; on the surface, it is difficult to understand why Daniel Cormier isn’t particularly liked by a section (one could argue a large one) of the MMA community. But it gets easier to navigate through the muddy waters if you understand that the casual MMA fan does not care about nice guys. They look up to individuals that thrive in chaos, that inherently walk around with a chip on their shoulder. Daniel Cormier, fortunately, or otherwise depending on your own perception, is a salutary antidote in a sport dominated by false heroes.
Whether you want to dissect his MMA career, starting with his accomplishments in Strikeforce and then the UFC, or if you would rather talk about Cormier the person, you will have to browse through a multitude of extraordinary tales and feats that now define Cormier’s legacy. As a fighter, it is irrefutable and unambiguous that Daniel Cormier walks away from the sport of mixed martial arts as one of the greatest to ever don the 4-ounce gloves. As a person, Cormier has always carried himself with a sense of dignity and integrity, which is a rarity in a world dominated by mavericks, eclectic personalities, and brazen tearaways.
Cormier would have liked to end things on his own terms. He would have wanted to have written his own swan song, but at the end of his illustrious career, there will always be a bookend, an asterisk that will not go away. He could have retired as the UFC Heavyweight Champion, but life isn’t about romanticism, or about the gunslinger walking away into the sunset. Daniel Cormier, when he was fighting in Strikeforce, was living with his wife in a 700-square foot, one-bedroom apartment. They had no money, and they were living on welfare.
Daniel Cormier might have to live with the bitter truth that he never defeated Jon Jones, or that he couldn’t put the proverbial bow on top of his incredible career. But Cormier gets to walk away as one of the greatest to ever step foot inside the cage, and for a man that gives more importance to the journey than the destination, what he has accomplished is nothing short of remarkable.